The Emanuel County Commissioners met Tuesday night for a public hearing on a proposed increase of the millage rate.
The Commissioners also held a hearing on the contentious issue Tuesday morning and have another scheduled for September 21 at 11:00AM. Accusations from the public swirled alleging the county did not advertise the meetings in the paper but County Administrator Guy Singletary confirmed it ran August 24 and August 31 in the Forest Blade. Before the elected officials were two initiatives:
- Increase the millage rate by 1 mill for the general M&O, for a total of 9.28%
- A secondary notice of increase was announced for the adjustment of special service district in unincorporated areas of the county and municipalities excluding Swainsboro, which is 1 mill for the county and 1/2 a mill for Twin City. (more details in that below)
–In order to comply with HB 489 to negotiate service delivery and stop double taxation. The county is responsible for 50% of the match to Swainsboro’s portion to cover expenses for rural fire, recreation, the airport, animal control , solid waste, and the library system. The agreement has been 50-50 for several years.
County administrator Guy Singletary said the 50 percent hasn’t been reached and the county was previously subsidizing the money with general fund money, which is not appropriate.
Revenues have not increased at the same rate as expenses as evidenced in the last five years of the tax digest. New growth through new construction has also remained steady. The proposed budget for FY 2017, which begins October 1, is $10,663,900.
Emanuel County is currently operating out of three funds, but shifting to money to comply with state law. Because of that, less money is in the General Fund which effects operating expenses.
Singletary mentioned that because of the way the county operates, a home that is $75,000 in Emanuel County may be worth $350,000 in Atlanta, but the Atlanta owner pays less because of the millage rate. That said, Emanuel County residents pay, on average, about $90 less than the average Georgian in property taxes.
He also said $624.99 on average in counties around the state is spent per person on services provided while, included the increase proposed by Commissioners, Emanuel county will spend $471.90 per person for services provided.
By comparison, Candler county has higher solid waste fees and Evans County pays fire fees annually. Emanuel County is set up differently.
- The Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) is down $157,772 less per year than Emanuel Collected two years ago
- Federal money for prisoner housing is down $287,418 per year from 2014. The Sheriff noted that the Obama administrations slow down on prison time and diversion to alternative sentencing has directly affected the per dime reimbursements for the county.
- Road department parts have an increased need of $225,000
- EMS services are up $75,000
- Solid waste disposal needs an additional $57,500
- Health insurance policies have been affected by the Affordable Care Act and will cost the county an additional $300,000 annually, totaling over $800,000.
- Inmate medical costs are up because of federal policy changes and are costing an additional $33,423
- General Liability insurance is up $49,784
These changes are are to maintain the current Emanuel Lifestyle, and includes cuts, but does not add additional services. Additionally, the county has implemented cost saving programs like new financial policies, a zero based budgeting approach for departments, and more accountability for purchase orders.
On a full-time basis, Emanuel County funds all public safety services, public works for highways and streets as well as solid waste, the courts, financial administration, the tax assessors office, the tax commissioner, the health department, DFACS, the recreation department, the library,mr he county extension and 4-H, forestry, the airport, code enforcement and economic development,
Barbara Beals complimented the recent changes toward efficiency and accountability but requested the county commissioners hold off from passing the tax increase until after the November election.
Singletary said many expenditures haven’t been funded correctly and the revenue has not been properly documented so previous budget years look much smaller than they actually were.
Edward Wiggins addressed the Commissioners asking what the dollar increase would be and Singletary said the average taxpayer will see a $30 increase on their property taxes for a $75,000 home.
Mr. Blair said he has 30 pieces of property in the county and in the city of Swainsboro and complained that taxes continue to edge up while some of the services his areas require go unaddressed, like the deplorable road conditions. Blair said 40% of the time a fire truck would not be able to get to his home. He also noted that while his taxes go up, the values of his properties are not increasing.
Peggy Price said the seniors have a lot of needs in the county and the tax increase will harm them tremendously, a notion repeated by half a dozen citizens.
Bill Carmichael, a large timberland landowner in the county, questioned the commissioners on the solid waste disposal and whether or not they’ve considered assessing a special fee annually for solids waste disposal to cover the costs. Singletary said the fee had been weighed, when Carmichael said the fee should be assessed so landowners and renters pay the fee, instead of just property owners.
Resident Phil Tatum said the citizens are about to face the same challenges the county is: expenditures are increasing but incomes and salaries won’t, so the county is making it more expensive for the residents and it couldn’t force people to leave the county.
James Cannady, a former County Commission, address the crowd as well saying taxes have never gone up this much at one time. He also said during the recession, the county didn’t furlough anyone, didn’t cut benefits, and didn’t raise taxes. He also said employee morale is extremely low and this will only make it worse. Chairman Desse Davis took exception to the morale statement, saying the county does the best it can with the money it brings in.
In response to those complaining about the increase while living on a fixed income, Commissioner Keith Thompson said the commissioners have met and held more workshops on the budget than ever before to try to remedy the shortfall.
WHAT HAPPENS IF IT THE INCREASE IS APPROVED?
Residents of Swainsboro will see a 9% increase in taxes.
Residents of Twin City will see an increase of 1.5 mills because they have opted out of the Rec department special service district tax option because the city runs their own rec department. They will see a 13% increase in property taxes.
Residents of the county and other municipalities will see a 17% increases.
Of most concern is that these fixes bring the county to zero, not a position to build a reserve. The goal is to increase revenue by roughly $750,000. Singletary said the county is considering a six year SPLOST to help with other projects like renovations to the Coleman Hotel.
This increase will have no effect on the taxes allocated for education.
The next meeting will be on September 21 at 11:00 AM. The public hearing will be held at the John C Coleman hotel and following the hearing, the Commissioners will vote on the matter for the increased millage rate.